Beware the Yabbering Haircut

I was at a get together of small business owners recently. It was exciting to see so many people taking the plunge and striking out on their own.

But it made me kind of nervous too. I thought about all the redundancy payouts and business loans staked on making a go of it.

Self-employment can be great. It can also go horribly wrong…

What you need in those early days is good advice, because any mistakes are going to hit you hard in your pocket.

Looking back at my own cack-handed efforts to get my modest gig off the ground made me wince.

I’d give anything to turn back time and do a few things differently. I’d certainly have more cash in the bank today.

So, when the eager young host with the towering haircut started with the social media guff, my heart sank.

Most people there were just starting out – fledgling outfits looking for those vital first few customers to keep them afloat and kick-start growth.

Exactly the kind of people who shouldn’t be arsing about on Twitter all day increasing ‘reach’ in lieu of actually putting some sales on the board.

But, everyone dutifully noted down ‘social media stuff’ as absolutely the most important thing they need to do when they get back to their desks, making me sadder still.

Marketing fads come and go, but some things are timeless – tell people what you do, why you do it well and what makes you better/different from the competition. And capture prospect data for follow up.

Yes social media has a place for a small business, but get your fundamentals in place first, the stuff that really matters- like a great website.

And if you look at a lot of them, they tell you precisely nothing. Just empty platitudes, hollow boasting, or waffle.

With nothing for visitors to sign up to. No newsletter, no free report, no giveaway. Those hooks that help you build a list of prospects to market to – educating them, gaining their trust and ultimately converting them to customers.

Do that, and you won’t make a mess of things like I did in my first year. So, if you’re looking for a steer, beware the yabbering haicut and seek out a grizzled business veteran instead.

 

 

What the NFL can Teach us About Succeeding on a Level Playing Field

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On Sunday the second game of the NFL international series takes place at Twickenham stadium in London. The well-heeled English rugby set take the day off as an army of gridiron fans descends on HQ.

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The Los Angeles Rams (technically the home team) ‘host’ the New York Giants as American Football continues to look for new markets, fans and commercial opportunities, testing the waters for the viability of a full-time UK franchise.

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Sure, they’ll be a rendition of God Save the Queen, but cheerleaders, marching bands and foot-longs will render the place unrecognisable, colourful Americana everywhere and not a Barbour jacket in sight.

The game itself, violence punctuated by committee meetings and stuffed full of ad breaks, couldn’t be more American. And by American, I mean capitalist.

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But behind the glitz and commercialism, you’ll find something truly unexpected in the way the sport operates – equality.

This is a league that believes in parity. A level playing field to ensure that even the worst team last season, can compete to be crowned champion next time.

There’s a salary cap for starters. So unlike say Manchester City and Chelsea, teams can’t just outbid others for talent and stack their rosters with quality players. If a superstar goes down injured, it’s a journeyman free agent or rookie who steps in.

And combined with the draft – the entry of new players into the league from the college system – the least successful NFL teams from the previous season get to pick first, you have a recipe for sporting socialism.

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No team has ever won the Super Bowl three times in row because it’s hard to keep winning championships when the system is stacked against you.

But, some teams are still more consistently successful than others, even with these handicaps in place.

The most egregious example of this in the AFC East.  The once mighty Miami Dolphins who recorded the only undefeated season in league history in 1972 are a shambles by committee. Arch rivals the New England Patriots on the other hand are a winning machine.

They’ve topped their division 13 times in the last 15 years, been to 6 Super Bowls and won the big prize 4 times. A phenomenal record by anyone’s standards.

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How is this possible?

Subject to the same restrictions as everyone else, they find ways to do things better and smarter, thinking differently to other franchises.

Take the draft. They consistently trade down rather than up. So they don’t pick early where other teams get first dibs on the most coveted prospects, but they do end up with more picks overall. Viewing the process as a lottery they’re happy to have more tickets – picking up a ton of talent in later rounds, seeing value in raw young players overlooked by the other teams.

They have a knack for trading for players or acquiring free agents who haven’t fulfilled their potential elsewhere, but possess plenty of upside. Maybe they were a bad fit, mismanaged, poorly coached or all three. The Patriots know how to get production out of them.

And no team plans for opponents as effectively as the Patriots do. They’re ruthlessly thorough. The coaching staff sweat the small stuff to come up with got a way to win each game. Usually it works!

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On the field they innovate with new schemes. This is not a team that follows, it leads the way, continually refining the game and driving change within the league.

Which brings me back to your business.

Your industry can seem a bit like the NFL – this level playing field where not much separates you from the competition. Broadly speaking you all offer the same product or service. It’s hard to stand out.

But actually there are some really simple things you can do to tip the odds in your favour without blowing the marketing budget.

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And who doesn’t want to be playing with the slope?

Take your copy.

Content is so often an afterthought. They’re only words right?

But cut corners with copy – by doing it yourself or giving it to the intern – and you could miss out on conversions. Because it takes skill to turn readers into new customers. 

A revamp of your website, brochures and sales letters by a professional copywriter could pay dividends. A quick win that the Miami Dolphins would die for.

By crafting a clear identity, daring to be different and pressing the right buttons with your prospects, those words become an investment – a toolkit that delivers again and again for your business.

Small changes can make a big difference.

Food for thought.

And if you’re curious about the game, good news, no dish or subscription required. It’s on BBC2  and kicks off at 2.30pm.

Let’s go Giants let’s go……………

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Two Hearts Believing in Just One Mind

 

I’ve often wondered – was Phil Collins singing about freelancing?

The relationship between marketing manager and copywriter?

Probably not. But I think he makes a valid point about partnership. Although what I’m proposing is a bit less intense:

Two people working towards one shared goal – yes.

Remaining connected through time and space when we’re not together – no.

Hi, I’m Richard Phelps – writer for hire.

And if it’s OK with you, I’ll take my foot out of the door and come and sit down.

Nice desk btw. And is that an iMac? Cool.

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Right, I’ll make it quick. You’re crazy busy as it is.

I’ve got a couple of days each month coming free and wondered if you could use a hand?

All that copy you need for those big projects you’re juggling – chuck it my way and free up some time to crack on with all the other pressing stuff that’s overwhelming your inbox.

An extra pair of hands without contract or commitment.

Leaving you more time to be strategic. Which is what you’re really good at.

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Lighten the load and you might even leave the office on time, so go on:

  • Catch a movie
  • Pick the kids up from school
  • Chillax to a bit of Phil Collins if you must.

Whatever it is you like to do of an evening.

Right now though I’m just some random you know nothing about.

So have a look at my credentials first.

And here’s the deal:

We’ve not worked together before, so let’s start small.

For £100 I can work on something that could use a polish – a press release, sales letter or homepage perhaps.

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And if you don’t like my version? Well I won’t charge you a penny.

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Can’t say fairer than that.

The bad news? I’ve only got capacity to work with 5 new people.

So if you’d like to grab a slot, email me before someone beats you to it.

You look after the big picture. I write. Perfect. It was like this was meant to be!

Look forward to hearing from you.